Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge
Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1975 to safeguard the critically endangered Mississippi Sandhill Crane and its unique disappearing habitat. The 19,000-acre refuge protects forested swamps, pine scrub, tidal marshes, and the wet pine savannas that are critical to the survival of Sandhill Cranes.
Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge is threatened by an invasion of nonnative fire ants, as well as a rapidly spreading nonnative weed called cogon grass. Cogon grass is degrading and destroying the last remaining savannah habitat, which is the last bastion of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane. Cogon grass spreads especially quickly in roadsides and areas where there have been fires or other soil disturbances, a problem exacerbated by a major drought in 2000. With their voracious appetites, fire ants invade drier long-leaf pine savannah habitat where Mississippi Sandhill Cranes nest. The fire ants also represent a direct predatory threat; they devour the eggs of the imperiled cranes.
Threat to Birds
Listed by the federal government and the state of Mississippi as endangered, the Mississippi population of Sandhill Cranes is limited to about 100 birds, with only 20 breeding pairs. Nesting effort and success, as well as survival of young, relies on the availability of quality savannah habitat for nesting. By destroying native savannah habitat, invasive cogon grass represents a profound threat to the Mississippi Sandhill Crane. The loss of eggs to invasive fire ants is particularly alarming given the low annual fledging rates characteristic of Sandhill Cranes; each crane rarely raises more than one young to fledgling in a given year, even in the absence of such threats. This low fledging rate limits the ability of Mississippi Sandhill Cranes to recover from population declines.